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The African Artists with disabilities changing the Narrative

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The African Artists with disabilities changing the Narrative, one step at a time.

Calvin Ratladi

Born in Witbank, Mpumalanga Province on January 29, 1991, Calvin Ratladi is a South African powerhouse. Not only is he a SAFTA-winning artist (2022) for his captivating performance in the historical drama series Shaka iLembe, but he’s also a prolific writer, director, and champion for disability inclusion in the arts.

Ratladi’s artistic journey began in 2010 with the establishment of the Calvin Ratladi Foundation, a testament to his dedication to nurturing artistic expression. He holds a B.Tech degree in Drama from the Tshwane University of Technology and is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at UP.

Adept at captivating audiences on both stage and screen, Ratladi boasts an impressive theatre career dating back to 2013. He breathed life into diverse characters, from Animus & Ensemble in Dis[illusion] to Estragon in Waiting for Godot. From 2017 to 2018, he delivered a powerful performance as Man in Human Pieces II, further solidifying his versatility.

Ratladi’s talents extend far beyond acting. He’s a skilled writer and director, having helmed productions like King Lear (2016), Silent Scars (2017), and The Dead Chant in Death (2018). His 2019 work, Nongqawuse, showcased his ability to both write and direct.

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Ratladi’s dedication to social causes is evident. In 2022, he received the Outstanding Person with a Disability award at the SAFTAs. He’s also the recipient of the prestigious Naledi Award and the 2019 Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award, becoming the first Black recipient in the award’s history.

Ratladi’s literary prowess extends beyond scripts. He’s the author of “The Ram And Its Behind” and co-authored “Roots in The Sky” and “MaNgoyi – The Life of Lilian Ngoyi.” Additionally, he serves as the curator of the international theatre project A Gathering in a Better World (GIABW).

Calvin Ratladi is a true renaissance man of the South African arts scene, consistently pushing boundaries and inspiring others with his multi-faceted talent and unwavering commitment to social change.

Victor Sitali

Born and raised in Zambia, Victor Sitali now paints his vibrant vision from his Dubai studio. Deaf since early childhood, Sitali discovered his artistic voice at the age of 27. His motto, “My voice is heard through the work of my hands,” speaks volumes about the power of art in his life.

Mentored by British artist Trevor Waugh, Sitali’s work focuses on capturing the essence of Africa through portraits, landscapes, and the captivating beauty of birds and eyes. He’s a master of multiple mediums, wielding oil paints, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, and charcoal with equal skill.

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In 2013, he won “Best Artist” and “Highly Recommended” awards at the first Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival. His talent shone internationally as well, receiving an honorable mention at the International Emerging Artists Award. A highlight of his career came in 2019 with selection for the prestigious 12th Florence Biennale.

Sitali’s artistic journey extends beyond the canvas. From 2011 to 2014, he honed his skills at Mawaheb from Beautiful People. In 2017, he graduated with a degree in Graphic Design from SAE Institute, Dubai. 

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Today, his passion extends to fostering creativity in others. He conducts workshops on art and sign language, sharing his talents and experiences in schools and art spaces across the UAE.

Sitali’s passion for photography complements his paintings. He freelances for fashion and art events, capturing the vibrancy of the region’s creative scene. His artistic portfolio continues to flourish, as he puts in efforts to attain greater heights. 

Prince Nahimana

Prince Nahimana, a deaf Rwandan artist, has carved a space for himself and countless others in the world of art. Despite facing communication barriers and a lack of resources, Nahimana’s artistic passion blossomed at a young age. 

Today, at 34, he is the driving force behind the Kigali Deaf Art Gallery, a platform not just for his own work, but for 11 deaf artists to showcase their talents and Rwandan heritage through paintings, sculptures, and fashion.

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Nahimana’s vision extends beyond personal success. He aspires to shatter the silence by advocating for sign language as a fundamental right and equipping the deaf community with the tools they need to thrive. His dream is to establish an art training center for deaf children, nurturing their creativity and fostering a path towards self-sufficiency.

By: Yahuza Bawage

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Initiatives Empowering people with Albinism in Africa

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In the heart of Tanzania, a group faces a harsh reality: discrimination and violence due to albinism. Standing Voice, a British and Tanzanian NGO, is on a mission to change that. Founded by filmmaker Harry Freeland, the organization works tirelessly to improve the lives of people with albinism through healthcare, education, advocacy, and community development.

Freeland’s journey with albinism began with a documentary, “In the Shadow of the Sun.” Witnessing the struggles of people with albinism firsthand, particularly the high rate of skin cancer deaths due to lack of access to treatment, sparked his passion to make a difference.

Standing Voice’s approach is centered on empowerment.  They train local healthcare professionals to provide crucial dermatological care, including skin cancer screening and prevention.  The organization also distributes specially formulated sunscreen, Kilimanjaro Sunscreen (KiliSun),  to protect against the harsh African sun.

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@harry_freeland Instagram

Education is another key area of focus. Many children with albinism struggle in school due to poor vision. Standing Voice’s Vision Programme provides eye exams, distributes corrective lenses, and educates teachers on how to support students with albinism. Breaking the cycle of educational disadvantage is crucial for creating a brighter future.

Economic empowerment is also part of the equation. Standing Voice offers training and employment opportunities, equipping people with albinism with the tools they need to build self-sufficiency and overcome societal barriers.

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Advocacy is another vital tool. Standing Voice works with local and international organizations to raise awareness about albinism and fight for the rights of this marginalized group. They believe that integrating people with albinism into society is key to ending discrimination and violence.

A recent partnership with the Pierre Fabre Foundation has further bolstered Standing Voice’s efforts. This collaboration allows the organization to expand its life-saving Skin Cancer Prevention Programme, reaching more people across Tanzania and beyond.

Looking ahead, Standing Voice has ambitious plans. They aim to expand their programs into new regions, train community members as advocates, and continue their important work in education and economic empowerment.  Their ultimate goal: a future where people with albinism are not just accepted, but celebrated for their unique qualities.

While Standing Voice tackles the challenges in East Africa, another initiative is fostering a positive transformation further south. In South Africa, The Musicians with Disability and Albinism Project provides a unique platform for differently-abled musicians and people living with albinism. Funded by the National Arts Council, this project empowers these communities through music creation and performance.

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The project participants represent diverse cultural backgrounds, fostering the spirit of ubuntu, a South African philosophy that emphasizes interconnectedness and humanity. Their music addresses critical social issues, mobilizing youth towards positive change and promoting social cohesion.

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The Musicians with Disability and Albinism Project successfully created jobs for 40 participants, both disabled and living with albinism. Furthermore, by utilizing local businesses for services like transportation and catering, the project generated indirect economic benefits for the community.

Standing Voice and The Musicians with Disability and Albinism Project offer a compelling vision for the future of albinism in Africa. Through healthcare, education, economic empowerment, and artistic expression, these initiatives are breaking down barriers and promoting inclusion. Their work paves the way for a future where people with albinism are not just accepted, but celebrated for their unique qualities and contributions to society.

By: Yahuza Bawage

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Fannie Lou Hamer: A Powerful Voice in the Fight for Civil and Women’s Rights

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On March 8th, International Women’s Day, is a day of commemoration, advocacy, and protest. On this day, we remember all those women who gave their lives, efforts, and dreams to achieve a better life for themselves and for all. These brave women have left an indelible mark on history. One of these heroines was Fannie Lou Hamer, an American activist who fought for women’s rights and universal suffrage. Despite her disability and the violent racism she faced, she managed to bring about change in the state of Mississippi.

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First years

Fannie Lou Hamer, born on October 6, 1917, in the Mississippi Delta, a southern state with a history of slavery, experienced the daily impact of racial segregation, which was theoretically abolished. Lou grew up in poverty as the daughter of cotton pickers. At the age of six, she followed the same path and began working in the fields alongside her parents. Fannie attended a one-room schoolhouse meant for the children of farmers, which only operated during the winter (between harvests). It was there that she developed a deep love for reading and poetry. Unfortunately, at the age of 12, she had to leave school to support her family. During those years, she contracted polio, which left her with a disability, making it difficult for her to walk normally, a challenge she faced throughout her life.

Despite her precarious circumstances, Fannie continued to hone her reading and writing skills. In 1944, she was selected as a timekeeper on a plantation. A year later, she married Perry Hamer, a farmer on the Marlow plantation, where they lived for 18 years.

Fight for civil rights

Fannie Lou Hamer began her interest in civil rights in 1950 when she attended the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL). Local leaders provided messages of hope, struggle, and social reform during these gatherings, which deeply resonated with Fannie and led her to become part of the movement.

Indignant at the government’s efforts to disenfranchise people of color, Fannie decided to act. Along with 17 volunteers, she registered as a suffragist at the Indianola courthouse. Unfortunately, an unfair literacy test denied them the right to vote. This act sparked controversy in the city, and authorities began harassing this small group of activists. As a result, Hamer was fired from her job, and most of her belongings were confiscated. Fannie and her husband relocated to Ruleville, Mississippi, to start anew.

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The struggle didn’t end in Indianola. A year later, Hamer completed a voter registration program in Charleston. She also participated in a peaceful demonstration with a group of women at a “whites-only” restaurant, which landed her in jail. There, she was brutally beaten and mistreated, resulting in lasting physical effects. Undeterred, Fannie decided to go further. Fed up with bureaucratic obstacles preventing Black voter participation, she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964. This movement aimed to encourage Black political participation while challenging the Democratic Party figures in Mississippi

The fight for change

The MFDP, in collaboration with hundreds of young volunteers who arrived in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer, made the decision to challenge the political representation of the so-called ‘regular’ state party at the national convention of the Democratic Party, scheduled for August in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Fannie, along with several volunteers, traveled to New Jersey to express the difficult situation faced by Black residents of Mississippi. Her speech moved many, but due to the actions of President Lyndon Johnson, who sought a peaceful and uncontroversial resolution, the MFDP’s intentions were thwarted.

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Finally, Walter Mondale, then Attorney General of Minneapolis, awarded all the seats to the general party and only two to the MFDP. Party members, after a civil rights march, decided to reject this ‘charity.’ Mrs. Hamer declared, ‘We didn’t come here to have only two seats because we are all tired.’ Despite this setback, Fannie Lou Hamer’s fight continued, and she and her party persisted in changing a backward, racist, and unjust system. Thanks to her tireless advocacy and nonconformity, the Democratic Party managed to reform itself by expanding the participation of women and minorities.

By: Álvaro Lago

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